Monthly Archives: June 2015

“BROTHERLY”— Support for Each Other

brotherly

“Brotherly”

Support for Each Other

Amos Lassen

“Brotherly” is based on a true story of two brothers in 1970’s Ohio who were abandoned by their alcoholic parents and how they turned to each other for support. When the brothers realized that they had been deprived of a caring father and a loving mother, they knew that had to must for themselves. Alcoholism took whatever parents they had from them. in the midst of their parents’ rampaging alcoholism. There were no clear rules for them but the boys had the instinct to survive. save for survival and that meant that they had to take care of each other. The twelve-year-old younger brother kept wetting the bed, and the older brother cleaned him up. The younger boy loves the older and respects and looks up to him—there had been no affection from their parents so the two boys only knew to love each other.

When they began to share the same bed, something awoke in them and the younger experienced his first erection when he felt his brother’s body pressing against him. Here in the house that was ruled by alcoholism, the brothers discovered one of civilization’s oldest taboos, incest and homosexual incest at that. Of course, they were not aware that it was taboo and it was certainly sexual ambiguity. We ask ourselves if what they experience is some manifestation of carnal love or something in which they could redefine their roles without the fears or worries about their parents and then, by extension society, at large. Director J.C. Oliva’s short film avoids controversy by offering us poetic images and flashbacks that help us understand why these characters do what they do, without judging them or exploiting them.

“An Older Man” by Wayne Hoffman— The Sequel to “Hard”

an older man

Hoffman, Wayne. “An Older Man”, Bear Bones, 2015.

The Sequel to “Hard”

Amos Lassen

We met Moe Pearlman in Wayne Hoffman’s “Hard” (one of the first books I ever reviewed)  when he was in his twenties and now he comes back to us when he is “older”. Now he is 42 (an interesting take on “older” that probably relegates me to being dead). Moe is off to  Provincetown for Bear Week and his adventures there fill this book. We read as Moe moves through the years from “younger” to “older”, from a guy that everyone once wanted to being an “older” guy who is still wanted because he is now “older”.

Moe Pearlman is now over forty, overweight, and going gray. Having once been a younger guy who went for “older” men, he feels “different”. . He still hopes he’ll find a hot older guy and have an intense summer romance. His ex-lover Gene and Gene’s new boyfriend Carlos are with him providing company but Moe really feels “older” when those men that he finds interesting are looking at the younger guys and this really gets him down.

Having my own birthday this week and thus becoming a year “older” this was the perfect book for me to read (plus I read it the week before Bear Week in Ptown”. I love Hoffman’s look at aging and loneliness and found it to be so true for us “older” gay men.

While this is a sequel, it does not really begin where “Hard” stopped and it is not necessary to read “Hard” to enjoy “An Older Man”. Moe’s sex life has not changed and as Hoffman says, “Moe is a cocksucker. He’s always going to be a cocksucker” and he approaches “sex as a very affirming vocation—as something he really loves, a core part of his life that brings him pleasure”. He might not be looking for what he once did but his desires are the same as they were when he was younger. He still goes after older men. Now that he is one of “them”, he understands what younger men think when they look at him. One thing has changed—he might still be looking for older but he notices younger men for the first time.

This did not just happen overnight; it took a while. When the younger Rudd goes after him, he realizes that this is not what he is looking for. In fact, Moe runs the other way; he thinks that Rudd is just too young for him. He also sees him as competition and that makes him insecure because he knows that the men he wants might look right past him for Rudd and, in fact, he thinks of Rudd as who he once was. What really hits home is when Moe sees guys choosing Rudd over him, he sees what he thinks will be his future and now he has to learn how to be an “older” gay man. The world is going to fill up with more Rudds. Moe needs to figure out how to be a forty-something gay man. When one is older, he has to learn new strategies. He also has to deal with his own insecurities about his body but then he realizes that as long as he is surrounded by other bears, it is quite okay to dance shirtless and so he does and feels liberated (body-wise, at least).

Let me say here that although this is a book about bears, it is also a book about self-acceptance and aging. Many of us do not want to face the fact that we, like everyone else, get older. Gay men tend to look at just two ages—young and old but there is also the generations that came before us and worked very hard so that we have the freedoms we have today. Many from the earlier generations have been lost to us through AIDS but we must never forget them and most of all remember that many of them gave their lives so that we could have ours. I remember while living in Israel, coming back to America one summer to learn that almost everyone I had been friendly in the gay community in New Orleans was gone. It was my generation that was hit so hard and decimated. Moe, on the other hand, is of the next generation and although he knew older men and had friends that died, AIDS did not really touch him directly. Yet he is also not of the generation that knows nothing of AIDS—he is in that in-between place where AIDS is still very real even though he was not directly touched by it.

Moe and his friends did not see their friends die but they did see gay men who beat the disease through new drugs treatment (some of those did eventually die). Moe and his friends have lived through the age of safer-sex and risk and they certainly have felt the anxiety that everyone feels knowing what could happen if someone has sex with the “wrong” person. In the ’90s, where “Hard” is set, people were trying to figure out where the risk is and what still puts someone in danger. Rudd’s generation, however, knows about AIDS from having learned about it in schools or from older friends while Moe actually has the memories of what the epidemic did to the community and not so much to individuals that he knew. There is no doubt that AIDS influenced Moe’s life, especially his sexually. Some may wonder why AIDS is even mentioned here and my answer is somewhat personal—I cannot imagine anyone today not considering what AIDS has done to our community and I cannot really imagine anyone writing a book today without some mention of it. We must never allow ourselves to forget that AIDS was our Holocaust and we are still feeling the effects today.

Moe is also somewhere between here and there sexually. His generation was one of cruisers and he still cruises, He also cruises via phone and computer, something he had not done before. In “Hard”, he went to bathhouses and dirty bookstores, to actual locales to meet men. Now, we no longer need actual places of meeting because we can do so virtually. Now we can cruise anywhere and at any time.

Moe has a methodological approach to sex. When he goes out looking for sex, he is very serious—he knows what kind of sex he wants and he knows when is the best time and place to find it. He also knows what he has to wear depending upon what he is looking for and what to take with him. Sure, it becomes second nature but there is a method. There is a lot of sex in the book but it seems to me that there is a reason for that. Sex shows us something about getting older. Moe’s libido is still quite strong now that he is in his 40s.

I could probably continue writing about “An Older Man” for pages but that isn’t fair to the reader or to Hoffman I want you to read this book. I used to tell my college students when we studied Byron’s poetry, for example, that we take the poem like a Thanksgiving turkey, pull it apart and lick the bones clean with our interpretations. What we say may have nothing to do with what the poet meant. What we have here are my opinions about what is written in “An Older Man”. Read Hoffman’s book and decide for yourselves. Personally, I loved it. It is fiction with a great deal of truth.

“The Emperor Has No Clothes: The Radical Voice of Doug Ireland” edited by Martin Duberman— An Outspoken Critic

the emperor has no clothes

Duberman, Martin (editor). “The Emperor Has No Clothes: The Radical Voice of Doug Ireland”, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.

An Outspoken Critic

Amos Lassen

Doug Ireland’s outspoken writings that look at topics from gay rights to AIDS to the war in Iraq and presidential politics have been part of the way many people live for forty years. Now esteemed writer and educator, Martin Duberman, has brought them together and introduces them to us in “The Emperor Has No Clothes”. This is essential reading for progressives everywhere by the person who had a great understanding of the American left. Ireland worked hard to inspire grassroots activism and realize change and then hold us to his ideology. It is he who provided a voice for activists who dared to be somewhat radical. Ireland was a man of “style, insight, wit, passion, and a profound understanding of the human condition all collide to transform journalism into art”. He seemed to make the impossible become possible.

“The Trials of Christopher Mann” by Casey Charles— Struggling

the trials of christopher mann

Charles, Casey. “The Trials of Christopher Mann”, Regal Crest Enterprises, 2013.

Struggling

Amos Lassen

Chris Mann was raised in a conservative Bay Area household but moves to the city with a set of intentions in direct contrast to those of gay migrants in the 1970s. Almost as soon as he began his first year in law school, he found himself confronted by gay. Wendy, his classmate and occasional lover, Wendy, tells him all about her work on Harvey Milk’s campaign against the anti-gay Briggs Initiative. His best friend, Jim, whose fiancé is a witness to the City Hall killings and plans to testify in favor of Dan White , persuades Chris to accompany him to White’s murder trial. Chris has been struggling with his attraction to Jim and finally acts on it, only to face violent consequences when Jim’s fiancé finds the two men in bed together after the White Night Riots.

The 70s were a violent and passionate time in our history, especially in San Francisco. We read here about several characters and how they come-of-age and live there during the assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. Writer Casey Charles brings together our history with Chris’ own struggles with who he is and his sexuality. We meet a very tight group of friends who are tied together through their interwoven past lives in this character driven novel.

The plot is based on fact yet Charles adds the emotional connections and traumas of the main characters, and of the personal awareness and personal acceptance that we all must face sometimes in our lives. On one had this is a romance but on the other it is so much more and it deals with “the intersections of life, personal decisions, historical events and what comes after”.

Christopher Mann, struggles with his sexuality, his professional future, his family, his friendships. The plot not only deals with Christopher Mann’s coming-out but also with society as the characters interact with it. This is an exceptionally well-written look at an important time in LGBT history and it will have you turning pages as quickly as possible. I found that as I finished reading the book, I still wanted more.

“THE REMAKE”— Hooking Up Again

the remake

“The Remake”

Hooking Up Again

Amos Lassen

Two actors who originally hooked up during filming in their early 20’s find love can be even more complicated the second time around when reunited to star in an updated remake of their earlier film.

Sheridan O’Connor (Lynne Alana Delaney) and Riccardo Rossi (Ruben Roberto Gomez) were destined to meet on the set of their first big movie together when barely out of their teens. What they did not know was that their on-screen chemistry would become a hot and heavy off-screen romance that was destined for disaster. They never expected their lives to come together again— they are now living continents apart and it is a lifetime later. Then they are thrown together to to star in an updated version of their original film. The studio has high hopes that they will be able to attract the same audience who loved them the first time around. However working together again could demand greater acting skills than either ever imagined: long hours filming awkward romantic scenes, reliving the past and coming face to face with what fate has in store for them. Only slightly shaken and gently stirred by family and friends, Sheridan and Riccardo must find a way to make the perfect martini out of life so as not to waste a single drop of happiness. Yes, this is a comedy.

“WILD THING”— An Urban Superhero

wild thing

“Wild Thing” 

An Urban Superhero

Amos Lassen

A child who witnesses drug dealers murder his parents, escapes and grows up wild in the city’s slums. Years later he emerges to help the residents of the area who are being terrorized by street gangs and drug dealers.

“Wild Thing” is an urban superhero (Robert Knepper) who lives in a ghetto and learns to speak by listening to disc jockeys. When we first see him, he’s the young child of hippie parents in the 1960s. They are killed by a drug dealer and a crooked cop, and the kid falls in a river, survives and is raised by a bag lady (Betty Buckley).

After she dies, he learns to survive by his wits, living off the land and staying in abandoned buildings. In the “Zone” where he prowls, his legend grows, especially among young black kids who consider him a sort of Robin Hood.

One day, a new face appears in the Zone. Jane (Kathleen Quinlan) is a social worker who has come to work with kindly old Father Quinn in his settlement house. The local druggies are the priest’s archenemies. In the Zone, it just so happens that that vice is controlled by the same drug dealer (Robert Davi) and the same cop who killed Wild Thing’s parents? This coincidence leads to a series of events predictable. There are all the usual confrontations, attacks, showdowns, mistaken identities and close calls before Wild Thing clears his name, makes up with his enemies and gets the girl.

John Sayles wrote the screenplay and Max Reid directed and they are talented people but something happened here that they lost hold of what they began. There is so much wasted promise here that was not used.

Sayles is responsible for some of the touches of wit and bizarre, offbeat characters in the movie and because of this, the movie is often a lot more fun than it might otherwise be. The real problem is the overuse of clichés. The plot is so predictable that there are no surprises. Another problem is that the movie was made for a PG-13 rating and that limited what could be seen and said.

“NED KELLY”— Mick Jagger as Outlaw

hrd kelly

“Ned Kelly”

Mick Jagger as Outlaw

Amos Lassen

Unable to support his family in the Australian outback, Ned Kelly (Mick Jagger) turns to stealing horses in order to make money. He gets more deeply drawn into the outlaw life, and eventually becomes involved in murders. Director Tony Richardson illustrates here the parallels between the American Old West and Australia of years past.

The film opens with a black and white prologue of Ned Kelly bravely going to his execution. Then it goes to Technicolor and Ned is seen in a flashback, coming home from jail after a three-year sentence. This scene is set in 1871. In the background we hear the voice of Waylon Jennings, as he sings Shel Silverstein’s lyrics, which tells of Ned’s hatred for the British rule and hope for Ireland to be a republic. Ned says a debt must be paid  and he hears voices from his dead father that along with his own conscience tell him to seek revenge for what happened in Ireland. Thus begins his life of crime through Australia’s outback as he seeks justice for all the wrongs his people have suffered.

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Ned begins by stealing horses after complaining about the unfair tax law on horses that stray, which favors the rich landowners. When he was just 20 he formed a gang causing him to hide the rest of his life from the police, who put a price on his head. When Ned’s mother (Clarissa Kaye) is jailed on a false charge of abetting criminals and is sentenced to 3-5 years, Ned offers to surrender in exchange for his mother’s freedom. When the authorities refuse the Kelly brothers go on a robbing rampage, burning mortgages of the poor found in postal vaults, and murdering some soldiers. Rampaging through the Outback they gather sympathy among the poor and lower classes, who don’t trust the police.

Kelly and his gang plan to ambush a train with British police, but someone Kelly trusted tips the police on the train and Kelly is trapped in a saloon. One of Ned’s brothers commits suicide rather than be taken alive. But Ned heroically has the police go after only him and his other brothers, as they become decoys so that the others in the gang can escape.

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I found the plot and the film to be somewhat flat. There was very little emotion. Jagger had to work with a very dry and unpolished script and somehow the focus on Australia failed.

This was a flat presentation, hardly touching an emotional button on what all the fuss was about over Ned Kelly’s call for justice. Jagger didn’t have a prayer in succeeding in this dry script offered by Ian Jones and Tony Richardson. The story failed to focus on Australia, seemingly more of a British film than Australian. Under Richardson’s lackluster direction all Jagger seemed to do was proclaim his innocence and vow revenge, which soon became a shrill cry. If you want to see a better film about Ned Kelly, catch “Mad Dog Morgan” (76), a much truer and more daring version, with Dennis Hopper giving a much better characterization of Ned Kelly’s madness.

Kelly was a petty Irish thief returned to his family (who immigrated to Australia) after three years in prison. Constant battles with the corrupt lawmen see Ned’s poor mother thrown in jail as payback, and that sets Ned and his brothers (previously just horse thieves and petty criminals) on a life of robbery and murder. They now feel persecuted by an unjust, British-ruled society. This of course, makes Ned and his gang folk heroes among the lower class, anti-authority elements of society.

Tony Richardson’s direction and script, on which he collaborated with Ian Jones, do not delve too deeply into character. Nor are the principals’ motivations projected with relevance to untutored American viewers. “Ned Kelly” is somewhat pretentious folk-ballad fare that often explains little more than its action.

Like Jesse James and family, Ned Kelly, his mother, brothers and sisters are depicted as wronged, poor Irish farmers harried by English landowners and constabulary. Freed, after an unjust, three-year prison term for horse stealing, Kelly and his boys, with prices on their heads, conduct a gory but eventually tragic campaign to free their kind from their oppressors.

Visually this is a beauty but poor Mick Jagger looks more like an Amish preacher than an outlaw and when he says in the film, “Such is life” before he is hanged, you know he is glad to be done with it.” This film is worth seeing for those who want to see what Mick Jagger looks like when sporting an Abe Lincoln beard.” He is just never convincing. I really wanted to like this movie but unfortunately as Jagger has sung “you can’t always get what you want”.

“KING OF THE GYPSIES”— Caught Between Forces

king of gypies

“King of the Gypsies”

Caught Between Forces

Amos Lassen

Eric Roberts is Dave, grandson of the aging gypsy King Zharko, who is chosen by him to lead the gypsy clan at his death. Dave’s only inclination is to join the American mainstream, but he knows that the mantle of gypsy power cannot be taken lightly or denied.

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This movie was suggested by a book Peter Maas. It tells the story of David Stepanowicz, a young man caught between three forces: his desire to renounce his gypsy roots, his father’s (Judd Hirsh) enmity, and his grandfather’s (Sterling Hayden) wish that he follow him as King of the Gypsies. He goes to New York City where the tries to have a life of his own but his mother (Susan Sarandon) calls upon him to save his sister (Brooke Shields) from an arranged marriage. Although he rescues her, she perishes in an automobile wreck caused by their enraged father. A final bloody encounter between the two men takes place after David is given a golden medallion and ring at his grandfather’s death.

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This film gives us a fascinating glimpse into the exotic folklore and lifestyle of the gypsies. Eric plays his first starring role he does so beautifully. Dave is a rebel in that he does not longer want to be a part of the gypsy clan that he was raised in and prefers to be a part of the American dream. However, when Dave’s grandfather Zharko (Sterling Hayden) lies dying in his hospital bed he gives a coveted medallion to Dave making him the new king of the gypsies. This sends Groffo, his father, into a jealous rage and orders two men to go out and kill Dave who now must elude them while trying to get his life together and help get his younger sister Tita (Brooke Shields) out of the clan as well.

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Frank Pierson directed this drama of a gypsy feud in modern-day New York. There was a lot of hype over “King of the Gypsies” but there was little audience interest in it. The film back then was being marketed as an examination of the gypsy culture, as well as some kind of pretender to the Godfather throne but unfortunately it fell flat. There have not been serious mainstream movies about gypsy/American life and this one was lumped with the other unsuccessful attempts.

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The film does not help us to understand anything about the gypsies because it is not sincere in its portrayal of it. What it shows is filtered through the same junk that has marked Hollywood depictions of other “exotic” cultures through the decades. In “King of the Gypsies”, the gypsies are always dancing or singing or scamming or fighting. We do not get a real sense of who and what they are as a people, as a culture.

“LEGEND”— The Infamous Kray Twins

legend

“Legend”

The Infamous Kray Twins

Amos Lassen

Academy Award winner director Brian Helgeland’s new film, “Legend” is the story of identical twin gangsters Ronald and Reginald Kray terrorize London during the 1950s and 1960s.

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Tom Hardy stars opposite himself as both of the twins, who ruled the London underworld in the 1960s and became celebrities in their own right while doing it. Reggie and Ron Kray were notorious and their crime spree secured their infamy. “Legend” takes us into their private world. Ronnie Kray was, so they say, bisexual even though he only slept with men. In fact in the trailer he let’s us know this. In actuality he was open about this even thought the times were very different. After all, he knew no one would dare say anything about it to his face – especially because, as the trailer shows, he was pretty crazy.

“TREASURE: FROM TRAGEDY TO TRANS JUSTICE, MAPPING A DETROIT STORY— The Murder of Shelley “Treasure” Hilliard

treasure

“Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice, Mapping a Detroit Story”

The Murder of Shelley “Treasure” Hilliard

Amos Lassen

dream hampton’s documentary looks at the murder of nineteen-year-old trans woman Shelly ‘Treasure’ Hilliard. She was a 19-year-old Detroiter and an African-American transwoman. Her murder involved police coercion, Jim Crow drug laws, the criminalization of sex work and transphobia. It is about a young Detroit trans community activated by her death, and her family who are suing for justice.

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The film opens with “Treasure” introducing herself on a webcam. She meant to use the video for a dating site. She certainly had no idea that the video would ultimately serve as the introduction to a documentary about her .After she signs off, the film cuts to an empty lot in Detroit. From there we meet Lyniece Nelson, Shelley’s mother, who tries to calmly give us the details of recovering her daughter’s dismembered body as she is overcome with emotion and the film really hits us hard here. Treasure’s story combines the two big issues of today: the fluidity of identity and how citizens can become the prey of their own government.

Detroit has come to a symbol for the failure of the American city, but “Treasure” has no time for this since it is clear that the film was made by a Detroit native. There’s no point in learning about the history of Detroit and its demise. Yet, Detroit is a character in this film but it isn’t the antagonist.

The documentary skillfully tells us who Shelley was, and also provides a compelling portrait of the Detroit transgender community. We hear hampton’s voice from behind the camera only once and very briefly— she chooses to let the members of the community speak for themselves. Anyone complaining that cis-gendered folks only care about transgendered people when they are will change their minds after seeing this film.

Shelley’s family is seen as composed of complex human beings that defy the stereotyping of African-Americans. Shelley had love and support from her mother and sisters after coming out as transgender. Because they cherished her so dearly makes the loss they feel all the more terrible.

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There is very little onscreen text, no graphics. hampton knows when to stop the interviews and let the audience absorb what they’ve heard while letting us see her hometown through her eyes.

Shelley’s death horrific death is as much on the hands of the criminal justice system as it is on the men who butchered her. There are no easy answers as to why it happened to Shelley Hilliard. There is not just an individual at work here even if the events are horrible and heartbreaking. Transphobia, racism, classism, the state’s indifference to the suffering of minorities, and the latter-day Jim Crow of zero tolerance drug policy are the monsters that killed Treasure and their disembodiment & facelessness make them terrifying.

The documentary ends with an image of one of her sisters, haunted by the loss, but moving forward in her life. There is happy ending but the scenes of transwomen in the Ruth Ellis Center (a haven and community center in Detroit for the trans community – Shelley was once a member) stay with us. We see them laugh, dance, organize and live their lives as they choose to. While this does not take away the pain of Shelley Hilliard’s family, seeing them live their lives feels like victory. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that while it might feel like strides are being taken in society’s acceptance of transsexual people, the fact remains that they suffer a massively disproportionate amount of violence, with far too many murders of trans people reported each year.